Soccer across the world has taken a backseat after Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine as part of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war. Players, club owners, sponsors and the game’s governing bodies have all been reacting to the escalation in aggression with some situations having already become untenable both politically and morally.
We keep track of how the soccer world is responding to Russia’s continued use of military force.
Schalke 04 and UEFA no longer involved with Gazprom: State-run Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom has been intertwined with European soccer for some time now both as one of the UEFA Champions League’s main sponsors and that of Schalke 04 in Germany’s Bundesliga 2.
The Royal Blues wasted little time in distancing themselves from the company by replacing the Gazprom logo on the front of their shirts with Schalke 04 before confirming that they have cut ties with the Russians who had a seat on the board which Matthias Warnig has stepped down from.
“The FC Schalke 04 managing board and supervisory board have come to the agreement to end the club’s partnership with Gazprom prematurely,” read a statement. “The club are currently in discussions with representatives of the current sponsor and further information will be released at a later date.”
UEFA confirmed on Monday that they have also parted ways with Gazprom after 12 years which came on the same day that European soccer’s governing body banned Russian teams from its competitions with Spartak Moscow excluded from the Europa League.
Manchester United cut ties with Aeroflot: Gazprom was not the only sponsor-related movement in Europe with Manchester United moving to cancel Aeroflot’s sponsorship deal last week which had been in place since 2013 and had been renewed back in 2015.
“In light of events in Ukraine, we have withdrawn Aeroflot’s sponsorship rights,” read a club communique. “We share the concerns of our fans around the world and extend our sympathies to those affected.”
Adidas suspends Russian partnership: Adidas have also moved to address their manufacture of Russia’s national team soccer uniforms by suspending their partnership with the Russian Football Union (RFU) who were suspended by FIFA and UEFA while Poland, Sweden and Czech Republic all refused to participate in World Cup qualification, according to AFP.
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Chelsea set to receive bids: Roman Abramovich decided last Saturday to step away from the day-to-day running of Chelsea and has left the “stewardship and care” of the club that he has owned for almost the past two decades to the London club’s charitable foundation. At least three suitors are prepared to submit bids as Matt Law of The Telegraph reporting that the Chelsea owner could be open to selling the team with the threat of sanctions looming over Stamford Bridge.
The 55-year-old’s move has increased scrutiny on other Russian-owned clubs in Europe such as AS Monaco in France’s Ligue 1 and Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel has been the subject of intense media questioning since the statement.
“It is a bit too much for me to answer,” said the German. “I am not aware of the details, and I am not aware of the whole situation. We all agree that there are situations much more important than football, and this will never change. Situations like war are, of course, so much more important, but the role of Mr. Abramovich is not for me to comment on because we do not know enough about it. I am not sure if I am the person to give messages to the fans. We try to be calm here and we are calm in the center of a storm and noise around us that we cannot control.”
Coaches and players
Closer to the warzone, foreign players and coaches in Ukraine have fled the country via neighboring nations such as Romania, Poland and Moldova with Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv’s non-domestic contingents facing uncertain futures with soccer officially on hold but not coming back anytime soon.
Brazilian players back in home soil: Shakhtar have been delocalized to Kyiv since war broke out in Donbas back in 2014 but have continued to maintain a strong Brazilian link and their South Americans, along with Dynamo’s, have since managed to return home.
“We want to thank for the assistance everyone who took part in this process,” Shakhtar put on record. “The evacuation of the players was made possible thanks to the personal assistance of UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, the Ukrainian Football Association President Andrii Pavelko and the Moldovan Football Federation President Leonid Oleinichenko.”
Coaches return home: Roberto De Zerbi and Mircea Lucescu, respective head coaches of Shakhtar and Dynamo, only returned to their homes in Italy and Romania once their players were on their way to safety while German Markus Gisdol has left Russians Lokomotiv Moscow in disgust.
“Being a football coach is the best job in the world, but I cannot pursue my vocation in a country whose leader is responsible for a war of aggression in the middle of Europe,” he told Bild. “That is not in line with my values. I cannot stand on the training ground in Moscow and a few kilometers away orders are given that bring great suffering to an entire nation. This is my personal decision, and I am absolutely convinced of that.”
Sheriff coach goes to war: In the case of Yuriy Vernydub, who led minnows Sheriff Tiraspol to a famous Champions League win away at Real Madrid just a few months ago, the 56-year-old Ukrainian has taken up arms in his homeland to defend it against their aggressors from Russia with player Gustavo Dulanto praying for his safety.
In competition terms, the International Olympic Committee’s executive board has recommended that Russian and Belarusian athletes are suspended from competing in events with the 2022 World Cup coming up later this year with Russia one of the nations in the qualifying draw.
“We are committed to fair competitions for everybody without any discrimination,” read a statement. “The current war in Ukraine, however, puts the Olympic Movement in a dilemma. While athletes from Russia and Belarus would be able to continue to participate in sports events, many athletes from Ukraine are prevented from doing so because of the attack on their country. This is a dilemma which cannot be solved. The IOC EB has therefore today carefully considered the situation and, with a heavy heart, issued the following resolution.”
FIFA and UEFA have both suspended the Russian team after briefly adopting neutral flags and venues with no spectators nor national anthem while Poland, Sweden and Czech Republic refused to compete against the aggressors.
FIFA and UEFA will need to work together to adjust the playoff qualifying bracket with games set for March 24. With the removal of Russia, Poland could be awarded a bye to face the winner Sweden-Czech Republic. Another option could include adding Hungary based on their performance in the Nations League as they were the next most successful of these nations after Austria and the Czech Republic.
Europa League and Women’s Euros impacted: This extends beyond the World Cup with Spartak eliminated from the Europa League which means that RB Leipzig will advance to the quarterfinals with a bye — a decision which has not been treated kindly by federation nor club — and Russia’s women who are excluded from this summer’s Euros.
“The decision to exclude our team from Europa League is upsetting,” tweeted Spartak’s official English language account. “We believe that sport, even in the most difficult times, should aim to build bridges, and not burn them. We will focus on domestic competitions and hope for a speedy achievement of peace that everybody needs.”
UCL final moved to Paris: The Champions League final, which was due to be held at Gazprom Arena in Saint Petersburg, has also been stripped and moved to Stade de France in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis after the intervention of French president Emmanuel Macron.